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Wisconsin is latest US state to send ‘uncommitted’ message to Biden on Gaza

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More than 47,800 people cast ‘uninstructed’ votes in state primary, in latest stop of national protest movement.

Nearly 50,000 Wisconsin voters chose “uninstructed” – the state’s version of “uncommitted” – in Tuesday’s Democratic primary as part of a growing campaign in the United States where protesters are using the ballot to voice their displeasure with President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza.

State elections officials announced that the uninstructed option accounted for more than 47,800 votes cast, or nearly 8.3 percent of the total, surpassing the 20,682 votes by which Biden defeated former president Donald Trump in Wisconsin in 2020.

“We more than DOUBLED our goal!” Listen to Wisconsin, the group behind the effort, wrote on Facebook. “Our elections are so close, that showing we have the margin of victory to swing this election is exactly the leverage we need to push this administration to policy change on Gaza!”

Wisconsin was also the first state supported by the Uncommitted National Movement, an umbrella campaign launched by organisers in Michigan. More than 101,000 voters in that state cast “uncommitted” votes in the Democratic primary in February in support of the protest campaign, accounting for 13 percent of the overall vote.

A week later, 45,000 voters in Minnesota cast their vote for “uncommitted”, representing 19 percent of all ballots cast in that state’s Democratic primary.

Organisers of the Uncommitted National Movement, which launched after Minnesota’s primary, said they were focusing on Wisconsin in hopes of building a Midwest protest portfolio.

Michigan and Wisconsin are traditionally swing states in presidential elections and while Minnesota is a blue state, both Hillary Clinton’s victory in the 2016 presidential poll and Biden’s in 2020 were by small margins. Combined, the three states account for 35 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House – meaning that if recent voting patterns hold true, neither Trump nor Biden could withstand losing all three states in November’s election. 

“To the heartbeat of our movement, our volunteers: thank you for getting us to over 2 million voter contacts in WI, and helping us tell Biden to stop enabling Israel’s war crimes,” Listen to Michigan wrote on X after Wisconsin’s results came in.

“Onward and upward.”

All told, “uncommitted” (or its equivalent ballot option) votes were enough in Michigan, Minnesota, Washington and Hawaii to earn party delegates to be sent to the Democratic National Convention in August. Wisconsin’s results on Tuesday were not enough to win any delegates.

State Democratic parties will ultimately determine whether representatives of the protest movement will be chosen as the delegates for “uncommitted” voters, but organisers in Michigan express optimism that they will have representation at the event.

Both Biden and Trump have already secured enough delegates to be named their parties’ nominees in the general election.

Other efforts in states considered less likely to be competitive in November have also seen large turnouts, with 11 percent of Democratic primary voters casting uncommitted ballots in Connecticut and 14 percent doing the same in Rhode Island on Tuesday.

North Carolina, Massachusetts and Colorado also saw a significant proportion of voters cast “uncommitted” ballots in their primaries.

Abandon Biden, a separate group that is urging voters to ditch Biden in the general election, has paid particular attention to the upcoming April 23 primary in Pennsylvania, a swing state, although the Uncommitted National Movement has not yet thrown its weight behind that effort. Organisers have also launched campaigns in New Jersey and Maryland.

Not all US states have “uncommitted” as an option on their ballot. For instance, during New York’s Democratic primary on Tuesday, organisers urged voters to cast a blank ballot. It is expected to take weeks before state elections officials tally the total number of blank ballots cast.

For its part, Biden campaign officials have said the uncommitted movement is an expression of free speech.

But while the administration is increasingly critical of Israel’s failure to protect civilians in Gaza, critics note that the White House has continued to provide Israel with weapons and political support at the United Nations.

On Tuesday, US National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby said the administration has not found that Israel is using US weapons in violation of international law. He spoke just hours after an Israeli attack killed seven World Central Kitchen workers while they were travelling in a marked convoy near Deir el-Balah.

As of Wednesday, at least 32,975 Palestinians have been killed and 75,577 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7.

Posting on X, Abed Ayoub, the director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the latest results from Wisconsin show “how serious of a problem Biden will have in the general election”.

“Michigan was going to be a problem,” he said. “The campaign needs WI to win in November.”

“There is no pathway to victory without WI and MI.”

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NPR editor resigns after accusing US outlet of liberal bias

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Uri Berliner quits broadcaster days after being suspended over essay accusing network of lacking viewpoint diversity.

A senior editor at a public broadcaster in the United States who accused his employer of liberal bias, igniting heated debate about standards in journalism, has resigned.

Uri Berliner, an editor with National Public Radio (NPR), announced his resignation on Wednesday just over a week after he published an essay accusing the outlet of being fixated on race and identity and lacking “viewpoint diversity”.

“I am resigning from NPR, a great American institution where I have worked for 25 years. I don’t support calls to defund NPR. I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” Berliner said in a resignation letter posted on X.

“But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.”

My resignation letter to NPR CEO @krmaher pic.twitter.com/0hafVbcZAK

— Uri Berliner (@uberliner) April 17, 2024

NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Berliner’s resignation came after NPR on Friday slapped the editor with a five-day suspension without pay in response to his essay calling out the network.

In the essay published in The Free Press, Berliner argued that the outlet had lost the public’s trust by putting a progressive slant on coverage of major news stories, including the COVID-19 pandemic and claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia.

“There’s an unspoken consensus about the stories we should pursue and how they should be framed,” Berliner wrote.

“It’s frictionless – one story after another about instances of supposed racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse, Israel doing something bad and the dire threat of Republican policies. It’s almost like an assembly line.”

Berlinera also cited voter registration data that he said showed there were 87 Democrats and no Republicans on staff at the outlet’s Washington, DC, headquarters.

Berliner’s essay promoted public pushback from NPR employees, including recently-appointed CEO Katherine Maher, whose own views came under scrutiny after conservatives surfaced old tweets expressing progressive views.

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” Maher said in a memo to staff that was also published online.

“Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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More than 11,000 evacuated in northern Indonesia as Ruang volcano erupts

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Authorities further extend exclusion zone after volcano sends ash and smoke more than two kilometres into the sky.

More than 11,000 people have been told to evacuate from around the Ruang volcano in northern Indonesia amid fears it could collapse causing a tsunami, after erupting multiple times.

Mount Ruang, located in in North Sulawesi Province, first erupted at 9:45pm (13:45 GMT) on Tuesday sending billowing clouds of smoke and ash high into the sky.

After four more eruptions on Wednesday, Indonesia’s volcanology agency raised the alert level for the 725-metre (2,379-foot) high mountain to four, the highest on the scale.

They also widened the exclusion zone around the crater from four kilometres (2.5 miles) to six kilometres (3.7 miles).

More than 800 people were evacuated initially from Ruang to nearby Tagulandang Island, which is located more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the provincial capital, Manado.

But officials said on Thursday morning that more people would need to be evacuated as a result of the widening exclusion zone, and would be taken to Manado.

“At least 11,615 residents who are in the risk area must evacuate to a safe place,” Abdul Muhari, the head of the disaster agency’s disaster data, communications and information centre was quoted as saying by the Kompas newspaper.

Officials also worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami as it did during a previous eruption in 1871.

Video footage showed flows of red lava streaming down the mountain, reflected in the waters below, and billowing clouds of grey ash above Ruang’s crater.

Muhammad Wafid, the head of Indonesia’s geological agency, earlier said Ruang’s initial eruption sent an ash column two kilometres (1.2 miles) into the sky, with the second eruption pushing it to 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles).

The volcanology agency said volcanic activity had increased at Ruang after two earthquakes in recent weeks.

Indonesia, which sits along the ‘Ring of Fire’, a horseshoe-shaped series of tectonic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean, has 120 active volcanoes.

In 2018, the eruption of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatoa volcano triggered a tsunami along the coasts of Sumatra and Java after parts of the mountain fell into the ocean. Hundreds of people were killed.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 784

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As the war enters its 784th day, these are the main developments.

Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed building in Chernihiv. There is an excavator at the front on top of the rubble. The buildings, which are several stories high. are behind.

Rescue workers at the site of Wednesday’s missile attack on Chernihiv [Genya Savilov/AFP]

Here is the situation on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Fighting

  • At least 17 people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv after it was struck by three Russian missiles. Emergency services said 60 people, including three children, were injured. About 250,000 people live in Chernihiv, which is about 150km (90 miles) north of the capital, Kyiv.
  • One woman was injured by falling debris after Russian forces brought down a done over the Voronezh region. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said air defence also destroyed 14 airborne targets over the southern Belgorod region. No injuries were reported.
  • The BBC reported the number of Russian soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine had topped 50,000. The data was compiled by BBC Russian, independent media group Mediazona and volunteers.
  • Colonel Serhii Pakhomov, acting head of the Ukrainian military’s atomic, biological and chemical defence forces, told the Reuters news agency that Kyiv had recorded about 900 uses of riot control agents on the front line by Russia in the past six months. The gases, banned for use on the battlefield by the international Chemical Weapons Convention, are being used to try and clear trenches, Pakhomov said. Some 500 troops had required medical help after exposure to toxic substances on the battlefield and at least one soldier died after suffocating on tear gas, he added.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian military attacked a large Russian airfield at Dzhankoi in the north of occupied Crimea. A series of explosions were reported at the base. There were no reports of damage.

Politics and diplomacy

  • US House Speaker Mike Johnson said the House would hold a long-delayed vote on a $60bn aid package for Ukraine on Saturday. The bill, passed by the Senate in February, has been held up amid objections from far-right members of Johnson’s Republican party.
  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal, US President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve the package saying the conflict was at a “pivotal moment”.
  • China said that “a lot of work” would need to be done before a planned peace conference on the Ukraine war could take place in Switzerland. It did not say whether it would attend the meeting, which is expected to take place in June.
  • Russia’s FSB security service arrested four people, accusing them of sending money to Ukrainian armed forces and planning to join the country’s military.
  • France appointed investigating magistrates to run a war crimes investigation into the death of Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, a dual French-Irish national, who was killed covering the war in Ukraine in March 2022. Producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova was also killed when the news team’s vehicle came under fire in Horenka near Kyiv. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was badly injured.
  • Cybersecurity firm Mandiant warned a cyber group known as Sandworm, with links to Russian military intelligence, is emerging as a significant global threat after playing an increasingly critical role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Sandworm “is actively engaged in the full spectrum of espionage, attack, and influence operations”, Mandiant said.

Weapons

  • President Zelenskyy, addressing the European Council by videolink hours after the Chernihiv attack, pleaded for more defence systems. Zelenskyy said Ukraine should enjoy the same cover from aerial attacks as Israel, which was able to intercept a barrage of drones and missiles fired by Iran last weekend. “Our Ukrainian sky, the sky of our neighbours deserves the same level of defence,” he said. “All lives are equally valuable.”
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other senior German officials pressed fellow European Union members to take action as soon as possible to boost Ukraine’s air defences. On Saturday, Germany announced it was sending an additional Patriot air defence system to Ukraine.
  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO-Ukraine Council will meet on Friday to discuss ways on how to provide more air defence systems for Kyiv.
  • A crowdfunding initiative launched by a Slovak group on Monday has so far raised 750,000 euros ($798,000) from members of the public. The group, Peace for Ukraine, hopes to raise one million euros ($1.07 million) for the Czech Republic’s initiative to buy ammunition for Ukraine. Slovakia’s government has refused to send military aid to Kyiv.


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